Thursday, February 19, 2009

HIV/AIDS Orphans in Sub-Saharan Africa

More than twenty-five million people have died from AIDS since it was first recognized in 1981, making it one of the most destructive epidemics in history. It is undeniable however, that sub-Saharan Africa is the hardest hit and most affected area in the world. Of the global 2.9 million AIDS related deaths in 2007, 72% occurred in this area. AIDS has devastated the social and economic framework of societies in sub-Saharan Africa by mostly infecting people in the age group of 15-49, while 63% of the 40 million people living with HIV/AIDS today live in Sub-Saharan Africa. What is also startling is that, of the 2.9 million people who died from AIDS in 2007 one in seven was children. HIV/AIDS also has many indirect effects. Children of HIV positive parents compose the largest group of secondary sufferers. Africa is home to 95% of the world’s 13 million children orphaned as a result of AIDS. It is estimated that by 2010 a third of African children will be orphaned.

Caring for these orphans has become a severe humanitarian disaster. With the rapidly increasing numbers it is difficult to care and provide for all of these children. However, the potential for these children to form a large group of dysfunctional adults, which could further destabilize societies already weakened by AIDS, has increased the urgency of finding an effective solution to the crisis. The response to the problem has been unsustainable given the number of children that need aide. In Zimbabwe, fewer than 4,000 orphans out of an estimated 800,000 are accommodated in the country’s 45 registered institutions.

As an entire generation is being devastated by HIV/AIDS, major secondary effects are occurring on the children watching it all unfold. These impacts arise in a number of overlapping ways, including, economic consequences, changes in position of caregiver, education, nutrition, long term psychological effects, and even the likelihood of infection. What overarches all of these is how children psychologically process and respond to the stresses HIV/AIDS adds to their lives. It is important to focus on the psychological impact on a child who is forced to drop out of school, who must care for themselves and younger siblings, and face losing a parent or family member. These psychological effects are what lead children to destructive or with drawn behaviors that could make them more likely to become infected. If an attempt is made to better understand what these children are experiencing, it may be possible to reach them on a level that would help encourage them to protect themselves from the dangers of HIV/AIDS.

A child’s age effects not only how they respond to and understand AIDS as a disease but in what ways they are most affected. Pre-school aged children show the primary effects on growth and health in relation to losing a caregiver. School-aged children show more effects related to loss of education and therefore the development of a vulnerability to internalization and anti-social behaviors. It appears in several studies that children over the age of ten years are most vulnerable to becoming orphaned, but are a group neither specifically targeted by many current programs nor institutions that house affected children. In these cases family, community, or school based intervention is essential.

The loss of a parent or loved one generally speaking is associated with psychological conditions including anxiety, rumination, depression, social isolation, survivor’s guilt and low self esteem. Mel Freeman, former director of Mental Health and Substance abuse in the South African Department of Health, states that children after losing a parent will have difficulties with modeling, boundary setting and development of value systems necessary for moral development; as well as the support, caring and discipline needed for emotional stability. If children have problems figuring out how to set boundaries and develop moral standards then it is likely they will also be at a higher risk for HIV infection. This secondary impact of HIV/AIDS is a catastrophic one because it will cause a whole new generation to be at an even higher risk and only further the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Orphaned children have an increased incidence of internalized psychological problems, and 34% of AIDS related orphans have contemplated suicide within the year after their parent or parents’ death.

In response to preventing the majority of psychological disorders and their related effects, the main goal is to postpone the death of a parent. When extending the life of the parents, you increase his or her chance to complete school and possess the proper mechanism to establish a sound value system. Nearly one half of children who lose a parent to HIV/AIDS drop out of school. This is a secondary impact that can be reduced by attempting to supply more infected people with ARV treatment that is both successful and easily attainable. It will both extend their life span and improve the quality of life for their children.

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